Austria expels alleged assassin accused of working for Turkish government

Berivan AslanAUSTRIAN AUTHORITIES HAVE REPORTEDLY expelled from the country an Italian citizen of Turkish origin, who was allegedly hired by the Turkish government as an assassin. The man, Feyyaz Öztürk, 53, reportedly turned himself in to Austrian intelligence last year. According to the British press, Öztürk claimed he had been hired by the Turkish government to assassinate Berivan Aslan (pictured). Aslan, who is of Kurdish heritage, is a Viennese parliamentarian and a leading critic of Turkey’s treatment of its minority Kurdish population.

News reports claimed Öztürk’s mission was to terrorize members of the Kurdish expatriate community in Austria and elsewhere in Europe, who tend to be vocal critics of the Turkish government’s human rights record. British newspaper The Telegraph claimed that Öztürk had been tasked by Ankara to “ensure [Aslan] was hurt or died”, so that “other politicians get the message”. Öztürk also claimed that Turkish intelligence officials had blackmailed him in order to force him to carry out Alsan’s assassination. Moreover, he had been asked to kill two more Austrian public figures who are of Kurdish origin.

However, Öztürk reportedly aborted the assassination operation in March of last year, after he broke his leg in an accident during a trip to the northern Italian city of Rimini. Austrian prosecutors confirmed that an official investigation on Öztürk had concluded. It found that he had carried out “military espionage on behalf of a foreign state”, but did it not identify the state. Turkey has strongly denied that its intelligence agencies have any connection with Öztürk.

Öztürk’s espionage trial has been scheduled for February 4. However, according to Austrian law, he cannot be held in pre-trial detention and must be freed prior to his day in court. Rather than allow him freedom of movement inside Austria, the authorities decided to expel him to Italy. Öztürk’s lawyer said yesterday that her client had been designated “an imminent danger to public security” and taken to the Italian border shortly before Christmas.

The lawyer added that Öztürk wishes to return to Austria to attend his trial in February. There are suspicions among intelligence observers that the Austrian state would prefer Öztürk not to return to Austria, so as to avoid exposing espionage methods and sources in court. Meanwhile, Aslan said she remains under police protection, which was initially extended to her last year, when the alleged assassination plot against her became known.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 January 2021 | Permalink

Saudi crown prince dismisses US lawsuit brought by ex-spy official as ‘baseless’

Saad al-JabriA LAWSUIT FILED IN a United States court by a Saudi former senior intelligence official, accuses Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman of planning an illegal assassination on Canadian soil. But in a new court filing, the crown prince denies the accusation and claims that it is an attempt to distract attention from the alleged crimes carried out by the plaintiff.

The target of the alleged assassination attempt is Dr. Saad al-Jabri, who rose through the ranks of the Saudi aristocracy in the 1990s, under the tutelage of his patron, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef. Prince bin Nayef is the grandson of Saudi Arabia’s founding monarch, King Abdulaziz, and until 2015 was destined to succeed King Abdullah and occupy the kingdom’s throne. Eventually, bin Nayef appointed Dr. al-Jabri as Minister of State and made him his most senior and trusted adviser on matters of security and intelligence.

But Dr. al-Jabri’s standing changed suddenly in 2015, when King Abdullah died and was succeeded by King Salman. Salman then quickly began to rely on his son, Mohammed bin Salman, who he eventually named as his successor. That meant that Dr. al-Jabri’s mentor and protector, Prince bin Nayef, was effectively usurped. Bin Salman abruptly fired Dr. al-Jabri in September of 2015. Less than two years later, bin Nayef was dismissed from his post as Minister of Interior and went under house arrest in Saudi Arabia’s coastal resort city of Jeddah. Fearing for his life, Dr. al-Jabri took his eldest son, Khalid, and escaped to Canada in the middle of the night. They remain there to this day.

In a 106-page lawsuit, filed in August with the United States District Court in Washington, DC, Dr. al-Jabri claims that bin Salman sent spies to conduct physical surveillance on him. The lawsuit also claims that bin Salman dispatched members of his “personal mercenary group”, known as the Tiger Squad, to Canada, in order to assassinate Dr. al-Jabri. The members of the squad allegedly arrived at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport sometime in mid-October 2018. The documents claim that the Tiger Squad members traveled to Canada just days after they were dispatched to Istanbul, Turkey, where they killed Saudi journalist Jamal al-Khashoggi. However, they were allegedly turned back by suspicious Canada Border Services Agency officers.

Dr. al-Jabri’s lawsuit relies on the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows non-US citizens to file lawsuits in US courts for alleged human rights abuses that took place outside the US. But lawyers for the crown prince claim that he, along with his father, represent the top echelon of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family. As such, they claim, the crown prince is “entitled to status-based immunity from any suit in a US court”. Therefore, they argue, Dr. al-Jabri’s complaint “fails as a legal pleading”. The crown prince’s lawyers also accuse the plaintiff and his associates of having embezzled nearly $11 billion in funds belonging to the Saudi government.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 December 2020 | Permalink

Iranian authorities said to have photos of assassins of leading nuclear scientist

Mohamed AhwazeREPORTS IN BRITAIN AND Israel claim that Iranian authorities have visually identified the assassins who were allegedly involved in the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear scientist believed to have led Iran’s nuclear program. Fakhrizadeh was a brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran’s elite paramilitary force. He was accused by the United States and Israel of leading the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program, whose existence Tehran strongly denies.

Fakhrizadeh was killed on Friday during an armed assault that took place in the eastern outskirts of Tehran. He was attacked by assailants using automatic rifles, as he and his wife were traveling to Absard, a town located 60 miles east of the Iranian capital. His wife is also believed to have been killed in the attack, which lasted no more than 3 minutes and took place in broad daylight. Iranian leaders have accused Israel of the attack, and some believe the Israelis may have been provided with assistance from the United States. Israeli and American officials have not confirmed or denied that they were involved in Fakhrizadeh’s assassination.

Late on Sunday, Mohamed Ahwaze (a.k.a. Mohamed Majed), an Iranian-born reported based in Britain, tweeted photographs of four men, who are allegedly believed by the Iranian authorities to have been involved in Fakhrizadeh’s assassination. Ahwaze said that Iranian officials were busily distributing the photographs of the four men at various hotels and restaurants across Iran, and were asking for information about the alleged culprits. A few hours prior to Ahwaze’s tweet, a report from the state-owned FARS news agency in Iran claimed that the country’s Ministry of Intelligence had confirmed the identities of the assassins and that the details would soon be released to the public.

Earlier on Sunday, Ahwaze claimed on Twitter that over 60 intelligence operatives were involved in Fakhrizadeh’s killing, with the vast majority having a logistical role in the operation. He added that Iranian military units and IRGC forces had deployed along the Iranian border with Iraqi Kurdistan, believing that Fakhrizadeh’s assassins would try to exit Iranian territory by crossing the border on foot. Numerous Israeli media outlets are now reporting the information tweeted by Ahwaze on Sunday. However, the Israeli government has refused to comment on the claims.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 November 2020 | Permalink

More details emerge about alleged killing of al-Qaeda #2 in Iran by Israeli spies

Abu Mohammed al-Masri

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS SAYS it has confirmed a claim made last week by The New York Times, according to which an Israeli assassination team killed al-Qaeda’s deputy leader in a daring operation inside Iran in August. The paper said on November 13 that Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who went by the operational name Abu Muhammad al-Masri, had been assassinated in Tehran on August 7. He was the deputy leader of al-Qaeda, and was wanted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation for helping plan the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

On Sunday, the Associated Press said it was able to corroborate the The Times’ story with “four current and former US [intelligence] officials”, one of whom had “direct knowledge of the operation” and another, a former CIA officer, had been briefed about it. The news agency said the operation was carried out by Israel, acting on information given to it by the US. The Americans gave the Israelis information about al-Masri’s whereabouts in Iran, as well as the cover he was using to avoid detection.

Al-Masri was killed by a team of Israeli assassins while driving his car in a quiet street in the suburbs of Tehran, according to The Times. The assassins, who were riding on motorcycles, shot him with guns equipped with silencers. Al-Masri’s daughter, Maryam, who was riding with him in the car, was also killed. This was part of the plan, said the Associated Press. Al-Masri’s daughter was also the widow of Hamza bin Laden, the son of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. Hamza bin Laden was killed in 2019 by the US at the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to the Associated Press, US intelligence planners believed Maryam was “being groomed for a leadership role in al-Qaeda” and “was [already] involved in operational planning”.

Iranian media portrayed the incident as the murder of Habib Daoud, a Lebanese professor of history, who was gunned down in the Iranian capital along with his daughter by unknown suspects. In reality, said the Associate Press, the father and daughter were killed by the Kidon, (“tip of the spear” in Hebrew), an elite assassination unit within Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 November 2020 | Permalink

Opinion: Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination 25 years ago was an intelligence failure

Rabin Arafat

THE ASSASSINATION OF YITZHAK Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, on the evening of November 4, 1995, by an extreme right-wing Jew was one of the most traumatic events in the history of the State of Israel. Contrary to the public perception that the assassination happened as a result of a security failure and poor management of the Israel Security Agency (ISA), I argue that the murder was mainly due to an ISA intelligence failure.

“The Shamgar Inquiry Commission”, as it was known because it was chaired by Meir Shamgar, former president of the Supreme Court, submitted its report in March 1996. This commission found significant failures in the security measures taken by the ISA to protect the late Prime Minister. But, in my opinion, its findings were seriously wrong, as it avoided diving into the major intelligence failure that led to this tragic incident.

On the evening of November 4, 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was killed by Yigal Amir, a 27-year-old student who was known as an extreme rightwing activist. Amir was waiting for the prime minister next to his car and shot Rabin three times from a close distance, in spite of the fact that four of Rabin’s bodyguards were surrounding the prime minister. Amir claimed to have done it “for Israel, for the people of Israel and the State of Israel”. He was found guilty and was sent to serve a life sentence in prison.

The progress in the peace process with the Palestinians, known as the Oslo Accords of 1993, allowed the political breakthrough of a peace agreement with Jordan in October 1994. Rabin was awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres, for their role in the creation of the Oslo Accords.

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US spy agencies uncovered Iranian plot to kill American ambassador to South Africa

Lana MarksAn Iranian plot to kill the United States’ ambassador to South Africa was reportedly uncovered by American intelligence agencies, which believe Tehran is still seeking to avenge the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani in January of this year. The head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s elite paramilitary force, was killed by a US drone strike during a visit to the Iraqi capital Baghdad, sparking major tension between Washington and Tehran.

The news website Politico said on Sunday that the Iranian government had authorized a plan to kill Lana Marks (pictured), a South African-born American handbag designer, who is a longtime personal friend of US President Donald Trump. Marks, 66, assumed her post in October of this year. Citing “a US government official […] and another official who has seen the intelligence”, Politico said Marks had been “made aware of the threat”. The website added that the assassination plot against Marks involved operatives stationed at the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Pretoria.

According to the report, American spy agencies uncovered the plot several months ago. However, the confidence level regarding the intelligence was low. In recent weeks, the threat has become “more specific”, said Politico. This alleged plot aside, Politico said US intelligence agencies believe Tehran is weighing “several options” for avenging Soleimani’s killing, which include assassinating American diplomats abroad, as well as military commanders. On Monday, President Trump warned Iran on Twitter that “Any attack […], in any form, against the United States will be met with an attack on Iran that will be 1,000 times greater in magnitude!”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 September 2020 | Permalink

Slovakia expels three Russian diplomats in connection with 2019 murder in Berlin

Russian embassy in SlovakiaThree Russian diplomats have been ordered to leave Slovakia, reportedly in connection with the killing in Germany of a Chechen former separatist, which many believed was ordered by Moscow. On Monday, the Foreign Ministry of Slovakia confirmed media reports that three Russian diplomats had been declared ‘unwanted persons’ and ordered to leave the country.

The three diplomats are stationed at Russia’s embassy in Bratislava. They are believed to be intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover. A spokesman from the Slovak Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Monday, citing “information from the Slovak intelligence services”, according to which the three Russians engaged in “activities [that] were in contradiction with the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations”. Additionally, said the statement, Slovak authorities had uncovered “an abuse of visas issued at the Slovak general consulate in St. Petersburgh, and in this connection a serious crime was committed on the territory of another European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization member state”.

The statement did not elaborate on the specifics of the “serious crime”, but Slovak media report that it refers to the killing last August of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a leading figure in the Second Chechen War, which pitted the Russian military against groups of Muslim fighters in the North Caucasus between 1999 and 2009. Khangoshvili, a Muslim born in Georgia, was a bodyguard of Aslan Maskhadov, the self-described leader of the Muslim separatists in the Northern Caucasus. In 2015, Khangoshvili sought political asylum in Germany after two men tried to kill him in Tbilisi. The German authorities initially placed him on a terrorism watch list, but removed him after he began to collaborate with German counterterrorist agencies and participate in programs designed to de-radicalize Muslim youth. He was shot in broad daylight in Berlin by a man wearing a wig and carrying a pistol fitted with a silencer. Officials from the Berlin prosecutor’s office said at the time there were “indications the deed was pre-planned and may have political motives behind it”. It is now believed that at least one of the men suspected of involvement in planning Khangoshvili’s killing had traveled from Russia to the European Union on a visa issued by the Slovakian consulate in St. Petersburgh.

The three Russian diplomats have reportedly been told that they have until this coming Sunday to leave Slovakia. The Russian embassy in Bratislava said it would not comment on the expulsions. Kremlin officials have strongly denied that the Russian government had any ties to the killing of Khangoshvili. Moscow has vowed to expel an equal number of Slovak diplomats from the Russian capital in the coming days.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 August 2020 | Permalink

Canada thwarted plot to assassinate exiled Saudi former top spy, lawsuit alleges

Saad al-JabriCanadian border guards thwarted a sophisticated plot to kill a Saudi former senior intelligence official, who has been targeted by the oil kingdom’s crown prince because he served a rival member of the royal family, according to a lawsuit filed in an American court.

The target of the alleged assassination attempt is Dr. Saad al-Jabri, who rose through the ranks of the Saudi aristocracy in the 1990s, under the tutelage of his patron, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef. Prince bin Nayef is the grandson of Saudi Arabia’s founding monarch, King Abdulaziz, and until 2015 was destined to succeed King Abdullah and occupy the kingdom’s throne. Eventually, bin Nayef appointed Dr. al-Jabri as Minister of State and made him his most senior and trusted adviser on matters of security and intelligence.

But Dr. al-Jabri’s standing changed suddenly in 2015, when King Abdullah died and was succeeded by King Salman. Salman then quickly began to rely on his son, Mohammed Bin Salman, who he eventually named as his successor. That meant that Dr. al-Jabri’s mentor and protector, Prince bin Nayef, was effectively usurped. Bin Salman abruptly fired Dr. al-Jabri in September of 2015. Less than two years later, bin Nayef was dismissed from his post as Minister of Interior and went under house arrest in Saudi Arabia’s coastal resort city of Jeddah. That was effectively a bloodless palace coup, which purged bin Nayef and everyone who was closely associated with him. Fearing for his life, Dr. al-Jabri took his eldest son, Khalid, and escaped to Canada in the middle of the night. They remain there to this day.

Now a new 106-page lawsuit (.pdf), filed yesterday with the United States District Court in Washington, DC, claims that bin Salman sent spies to conduct physical surveillance on at least one of Dr. al-Jabri’s properties in the US, in an effort to locate him. The lawsuit also claims that bin Salman dispatched members of his “personal mercenary group”, known as the Tiger Squad, to Canada, in order to assassinate Dr. al-Jabri. The members of the squad allegedly arrived at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport sometime in mid-October 2018. The documents claim that the Tiger Squad members traveled to Canada just days after they were dispatched to Istanbul, Turkey, where they killed Saudi journalist Jamal al-Khashoggi.

The lawsuit claims that the members of the assassination team attempted to enter Canada in small groups, using tourist visas, and did not declare their affiliation to the Saudi intelligence services. However, Canadian border guards became suspicious of the men, after realizing that they were part of a larger group. Prior to expelling them from Canada, Canadian border officials searched the men’s belongings and found “two bags of forensic tools”, according to the lawsuit. The suit further claims that the Tiger Squad included “forensic personnel experienced with the clean-up of crime scenes, including an instructor” who had links with “the forensic specialists who dismembered Khashoggi with a bone saw”.

The Saudi palace has made no comment about Dr. al-Jabri’s lawsuit. Earlier this year, Riyadh denied allegations of harassment by Dr. al-Jabri and his family, and claimed he is wanted in Saudi Arabia for financial discrepancies and corruption.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 August 2020 | Permalink

Iraq’s leading expert on paramilitary groups assassinated in Baghdad

Hisham al-HashimiA leading Iraqi expert on paramilitary groups has been shot dead outside his home in Baghdad, raising concerns that the Iraqi government is unable to curtail the activities of militias in the country. Hisham al-Hashimi, 47, was a Baghdad University-educated historian, who rose to prominence in post-Ba’athist Iraq as an expert on paramilitary groups in the country. He was seen as a leading local authority on the Islamic State and advised the United States-led coalition on the group’s inner workings.

Starting in 2018, al-Hashimi focused his research on the rise of the Popular Mobilization Forces, a collection of over 150,000 armed members of around 40 different Shi’a militias, who helped the Iraqi government defeat the Islamic State in 2017. The Iranian-supported PMF proved instrumental in reclaiming territory taken by ISIS. However, it has since refused to acknowledge the authority of the central government in Baghdad and retains its weaponry and power.

In recent years, Al-Hashimi emerged as a vocal critic of the PMF and made regular appearances on Iraqi television to discuss the group, its tactics and goals. He taught courses on counterterrorism and advised the Iraqi government, as well as several foreign diplomats and journalists. In recent months, al-Hashimi had reportedly told relatives and friends that he believed the Shi’a militias were “out to get him”, and expressed fears for his life. He had contemplated leaving Baghdad and moving to Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

According to news reports, al-Hashimi was shot dead by two gunmen on a motorcycle, as he was leaving his home in north Baghdad. According to eye-witnesses, the gunmen shot al-Hashimi five times before leaving the scene of the crime. The terrorism expert was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead two hours later.

In a statement, Iraq’s newly installed Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, said his administration wound be launching a nationwide manhunt to find al-Hashimi’s killers. However, Monday’s assassination is widely seen as yet another sign that the Iraqi government is unable to control the PMF, and especially its most powerful wing, the Kita’ib Hezbollah (KH). Many were surprised late last month, when Iraqi counterterrorism forces moved to arrest 14 KH members for the first time since the group’s founding. However, all but one of those arrested were released in less than a week, with many accusing al-Kadhimi’s government of backing down out of fear or suffering repercussions by the militias.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 July 2020 | Permalink

Russia responds angrily to Czech expulsions of Russian diplomats in poison probe

Andrei KonchakovMoscow has reacted angrily to the Czech government’s decision to expel two Russian diplomats from the country, in response to allegations that the Kremlin plotted to assassinate three outspoken Czech politicians using a deadly poison. Russian officials pledged to respond in kind to Prague’s “indecent and unworthy deed”.

In April, the Czech weekly investigative magazine Respekt reported that a Russian assassination plot had been foiled by authorities in Prague. The magazine said a Russian citizen carrying a diplomatic passport had arrived in Prague in early April. The man allegedly had with him a suitcase with a concealed quantity of ricin —a deadly toxin. His alleged mission was to assassinate Prague mayor Zdeněk Hřib, as well as Pavel Novotny and Ondřej Kolář, two of Prague’s three district mayors. All three men are known as fervently anti-Russian. Earlier this year, Hřib led a nationwide effort to rename the square in front of the Russian Embassy in Prague after Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition activist who was gunned down in Moscow in 2015. Kolář has been advocating for years for the removal of Soviet-era statues from Prague’s public spaces.

A few weeks later, the Czech state television’s flagship investigative program 168 Hodin (168 Hours) claimed that the Russian diplomat who tried to smuggle poison into the country is Andrei Konchakov (pictured). Konchakov, 34, directs the Russian Center for Science and Culture in Prague, which is an extension of the Russian Embassy there. Citing “intelligence sources” 168 Hodin said Czech counterintelligence officials believed Konchakov was a actually an intelligence officer for Russia.

Now the Czech government has officially declared Konchakov and one of his colleagues at the Center for Science and Culture persona non grata (unwanted persons) and has ordered their expulsion from the country. In a statement issued on Friday, the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the two diplomats of “trying to harm the relations of the two countries”. At a news conference in Prague, Czech foreign minister Tomas Petricek told reporters that Prague had “made efforts to settle the situation discreetly and diplomatically”. However, “Russia’s approach gives us no choice but to expel the diplomats”, said Petricek.

Speaking later that day, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, dismissed Prague’s allegations as “absurd”. The head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Sergey Naryshkin, called the expulsions “a very vile and mean provocation by the Czech authorities” and vowed that “retaliatory measures will be taken”. In a press statement issued in response to the expulsions, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the Czech authorities had “seriously damaged” bilateral relations between the two countries “without any basis”. The statement went on to state that “Prague’s actions will not only receive an adequate response, but will also be taken into account when forming the Russian policy on bilateral relations with the Czech Republic”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 June 2020 | Permalink

Czech media name alleged Russian spy behind poison plot against Prague officials

Andrei KonchakovNews media in the Czech Republic have named a Russian diplomat who allegedly transported poison to Prague last month, in what officials claim was a foiled plot to kill as many as three high-profile Czech politicians. Late last April, the Czech weekly investigative magazine Respekt reported that a Russian assassination plot had been foiled by authorities in the capital Prague.

Respekt said a Russian citizen carrying a diplomatic passport had arrived in Prague in early April. The man allegedly had with him a suitcase with a concealed quantity of ricin —a deadly toxin. His alleged mission was to assassinate Prague mayor Zdeněk Hřib, as well as Pavel Novotny and Ondřej Kolář, two of Prague’s three district mayors. All three men are known as fervently anti-Russian. Earlier this year, Hřib led a nationwide effort to rename the square in front of the Russian Embassy in Prague after Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition activist who was gunned down in Moscow in 2015. Kolář has been advocating for years for the removal of Soviet-era statues from Prague’s public spaces.

This past Sunday, Czech state television’s flagship investigative program 168 Hodin (168 Hours) claimed that the Russian diplomat who tried to smuggle poison into the country is Andrei Konchakov (pictured). Konchakov, 34, directs the Russian Center for Science and Culture in Prague, which is an extension of the Russian Embassy there. Citing “intelligence sources” 168 Hodin said Czech counterintelligence officials believe Konchakov is a actually an non-official-cover intelligence officer for Russian intelligence. Konchakov is alleged to have arrived at Prague’s Vaclav Havel International Airport on in April, where he was picked up by a Russian Embassy car and driven to the compound of the Russian diplomatic representation in the Czech capital.

Soon after the allegations against him emerged, Konchakov spoke to the Czech news website Seznam Zprávy. He strongly denied the accusations against him and told the website that the suitcase he was carrying with him during upon his arrival in Prague contained “disinfectant and candies”. He added that he would not, for the time being, respond to further questions, as he would first have to be granted permission to do so from the Russian government. Meanwhile, the Russian Embassy in Prague released a statement claiming that it had asked Czech authorities to provide police protection for Konchakov, because of “credible threats” he had received following the allegations against him by 168 Hodin.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 May 2020 | Permalink

Russia denies accusations it planned to assassinate two Czech politicians

Zdenek HribThe Russian government has strongly denied accusations in the Czech media that it dispatched an assassin to Prague to kill two leading Czech politicians. The denial was issued by the Kremlin a day after Prague mayor Zdeněk Hřib said he had been placed under 24/7 police protection because of fears his life could be in danger.

On Sunday, the Czech weekly investigative magazine Respekt reported that a Russian assassination plot had been underway earlier in April. Citing “sources in Czech intelligence”, Respekt said a Russian citizen carrying a diplomatic passport had arrived in Prague in early April. The man allegedly had with him a suitcase with a concealed quantity of ricin —a deadly toxin. His alleged mission was to assassinate at least two high-profile Czech mayors, Prague mayor Zdeněk Hřib and Ondřej Kolář, who is the mayor of a large municipality in the Czech capital.

The two men are known for being fervently anti-Russian. Earlier this year, Hřib led a nationwide effort to rename the square in front of the Russian Embassy in Prague after Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition activist who was gunned down in Moscow in 2015. Kolář has been advocating for years for the removal of Soviet-era statues from Prague’s public spaces.

According to Respekt Hřib filed a police complaint during the first week of April, alleging that someone had been following him near his residence. He was then placed under police protection, after —according to him— the police determined that his complaint was grounded in reality. He has since refused to state the precise reasons for the police protection —which means that the allegations in Respekt remain unconfirmed.

On Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the Respekt allegations as “fake”. He added that the Russian government “doesn’t know anything at all about this [police] investigation” in Prague. However, the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday that “there would be consequences” if the two men were harmed in the coming weeks.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 April 2020 | Permalink

Russian spy who tried to kill Bulgarian arms dealer is now a diplomat, report claims

Emilian GebrevA Russian intelligence officer, who was allegedly involved in an attempt to kill a Bulgarian arms dealer in Sofia in 2015, is now a diplomat, according to report published on Tuesday by the investigative website Bellingcat. The website also claimed that there is a possible connection between the intelligence officer and the attempted assassination of Russian intelligence defector Sergei Skripal in England in 2018.

In January, prosecutors in Bulgaria charged three Russian men with attempted murder. The men were identified as Sergei Fedotov, Sergei Pavlov and Georgy Gorshkov, all of them residents of Moscow, according to Bulgarian prosecutors. They were charged with attempting to kill Emilian Gebrev (pictured), a wealthy Bulgarian defense industry entrepreneur and trader. Gebrev was hospitalized for several days for signs of poisoning, along with his son and one of his company’s executives. All of them eventually made a full recovery. Gebrev’s lawyers claim that he suffered from “intoxication with an unidentified organophosphorus substance”.

The case had been shelved for several years, but the Bulgarian state revived it following the attempted assassination of Skripal, which British officials blamed on the Russian state. British authorities charged two men, Anatoly Chepiga and Alexander Miskin —both of them allegedly Russian military intelligence officers— with attempting to kill Skripal. In February of 2019, Bulgarian officials claimed that there might have been a link between the attacks on Skripal and Gebrev. Last December, Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor announced that his office was investigating the alleged link between the two cases.

Now Bellingcat has said that it has discovered the real name of one of the three Russian men who were allegedly involved in the attempted killing of Gebrev. According to Bellingcat, the man, identified by Bulgarian authorities as Georgy Gorshkov, is in fact Yegor Gordienko, who is currently posted under diplomatic in Switzerland. According to the investigative website, Gordienko, 41, is currently serving as third secretary at the Russian Federation’s mission to the World Trade Organization in Geneva. State prosecutors in Bulgaria and the United Kingdom are investigating reports that Gordienko/Gorshkov was present in those countries when the attacks against Gebrev and Skripal took place, said Bellingcat.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 February 2020 | Permalink

Pakistani Taliban leaders found dead in Kabul hotel, culprits unknown

Inter-Continental Hotel KabulTwo senior members of the Pakistani Taliban, who were carrying fake identification documents, were reportedly assassinated earlier this month in the vicinity of a luxury hotel in the Afghan capital Kabul. The culprits remain unknown, although the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban has blamed the United States for their death.

According to the BBC, which reported on the incident on Friday, the bodies of the two men were found in or near the Inter-Continental, a five-star hotel located in western Kabul. According to Afghan government sources, the two men were carrying forged identification papers. In a statement issued on Thursday, the Pakistani Taliban identified the dead men as Sheikh Khalid Haqqani and Qari Saif Younis. Sheikh Haqqani had served as the group’s deputy leader, and was a member of its leadership council. Younis was among the group’s most powerful military commanders.

The Pakistani Taliban said that the two men had secretly traveled to Kabul from Paktika, a Taliban stronghold in the east-central region of Afghanistan, in order to attend a high-level meeting. The group did not say who the two men were meeting and why. But it is rare for leading figures of the Pakistani Taliban to leave the areas that the group controls, and even rarer for them to travel to Kabul or any other big city in the region.

The statement from the Pakistani Taliban claimed that the two men were killed “in a clash with American forces”. But the BBC quoted an unnamed “source within the group” who said that they could also have been targeted by militant groups linked to the Pakistani government, which is a sworn enemy of the Pakistani Taliban. United States officials have yet to comment on this developing story.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 February 2020 | Permalink

Analysis: Middle East on verge of new regional war as US kills top Iran general

Qasem SoleimaniIn an act whose implications are impossible to overstate, the United States has assassinated General Qasem Soleimani, arguably Iran’s second most powerful official. In the early hours of this morning, the entire Middle East stood on the verge of a regional war as the US Department of Defense announced it killed Soleimani in a “defensive action […] aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans”. But Soleimani’s killing will be seen by the Iranian government as nothing short of an official declaration of war. Tehran’s next move will determine the precise form this new war will take.

The United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia have targeted Soleimani for assassination for over a decade. In 2019 alone, Iran reported over half a dozen alleged plots to kill the general, the most recent of which was in early October. Soleimani’s killing is therefore not surprising. Moreover, Washington’s move rests on a number of crucial calculations by the White House, which help explain why US President Donald Trump made the decision to kill Soleimani, and why he did so now.

In the not-too-distant past, some of America’s tactical security goals aligned with Soleimani and his Quds Force —an elite unit inside the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is tasked with exporting the Iranian Revolution abroad. The Iranian paramilitary unit helped Washington deal with the Afghan Taliban in the days after the 9/11 attacks, and its proxies in Iraq and Syria helped the US and its allies deliver fatal blows to the Islamic State. But in doing so, Tehran solidified its power within Iraq, turning its government into a satellite of Iran. The rise of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the Iranian-supported militias in Iraq, is largely a replay of the rise of Hezbollah, Iran’s paramilitary proxy in Lebanon, in the 1980s. Having painted themselves into a corner, America’s political leadership had to act. It chose to do so by essentially ‘decapitating’ the Quds Force, which is the main conduit between Iran and the PMF. It is worth noting that Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the PMF, was also killed in the same strike. Washington’s hope is that these killings can somehow prevent —or at least curtail— the Lebanization of Iraq. Read more of this post